THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY SISTERS
B2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 8th December, 2017
One Christmas tradition that doesn’t get me bah-humbugging all the way home, is the Belgrade Theatre’s annual alternative production to the (excellent) pantomime in the main house. The B2 studio becomes home to a show for the grown-ups, in a genre- as well as gender-bending cavalcade of bad jokes. This year, riffing on Cinderella, writer-director Nick Walker gives us a Western with a cast of four women, playing cowboys. There is a plot, a chase to beat the bad guy to some buried treasure, and along the way we encounter a range of tropes (the saloon, the train, the Native American guide) as well as a host of larger-than-life characters performed by this versatile and industrious quartet.
Doc (the mighty Katy Stephens) is our protagonist and narrator. Such is her wry charm, we let her get away with the worst puns imaginable without rising up and lynching her. She is supported by the Magnificent Three: Miriam Edwards, Laura Tipper and Aimee Powell, in this relentless barrage of fun. Some of the jokes are as old as the hills and the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, but there is plenty of invention in the pun-fire, lots of new material to make groan-ups of us all.
Walker evidently spends the rest of the year writing jokes for Christmas crackers, and is possessed of a particular kind of genius. For example, the treasure could be silver, could be gold – it could be either ore.
I can hear you groaning from here. This type of thing is perhaps an acquired taste. It is certainly right up my alley.
Performing with indefatigable brio, the cast pull out all the stops to keep the laughs coming, and the knowing looks add to the fun. We are not expected to take a second of it seriously – but the cast certainly do, playing with commitment and skill – the comic timing is superb; and the production values are certainly no joke. The Belgrade’s in-house production services dress the show in quality costumes. I love the tumbleweeds that punctuate the script’s worst excesses and the horses are hot to trot. A simple but effective set with a sunset backcloth serves for all locations, allowing the performers to do most of the work, while the sound effects (Rob Clews) and the lighting (Chris Munn) evoke the genre while augmenting the humour.
It’s an hour of fantastic fun and it makes me think we don’t see many Westerns on the stage. Yes, there are musicals and opera set in the Wild West but no ‘straight’ plays? It’s a gap in the market perhaps I can head off at the pass…